I am probably the least likely person to extol the virtues of nature. I have a favorite sweatshirt that says “Indoorsy,” and I wear it outside as a public service announcement. But this list of books for adults who love the outdoors is full of such good recommendations that even those of us in the indoor-loving camp might enjoy a couple.
In fact, I have read all six books on this list and found them each curiously interesting. It is an eclectic smattering of non-fiction genres and styles. Whether you are looking for an adventurous biography, parenting advice, survival skills, or provoking essays about the natural world and our connection to it, this list has it.
Pick one area that you connect with and go for it! Read outside if you want a heightened experience, but in a comfy chair in a climate-controlled room is also perfectly acceptable.
- Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness by Nathanael Johnson
- The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs by Tristan Gooley
- What Are People For?by Wendell Berry
- There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather by Linda Äkeson McGurk
- The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf
- Walden by Henry David Thoreau
- Other Resources
Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness by Nathanael Johnson
I won’t launch into a full book review here since I already wrote one, but I will give it a little shout-out! Unseen City highlights the nature of urban spaces. As author Nathanael Johnson takes walks with his daughter, she begins to ask questions. “What is that?” “What is that called?” This launches him into a closer investigation of the natural world around him.
Even if you don’t live in an urban space, you can appreciate Johnson’s revelations about pigeons, vultures, ants, and other hidden-in-plain-sight curiosities of nature. I now have a healthy respect for crows and stare awkwardly at pigeons’ eyes. If you want to know why, you’ll have to read the book.
The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs
by Tristan Gooley
Okay, full disclosure: I both loved and hated this book. I started reading The Lost Art of Nature’s Signs so that I could better teach my daughters to understand the outdoors. I realized quickly that experience will be a much better guide in this area.
The book is very thorough and Gooley’s expertise is evident throughout all the pages. He takes great effort to explain myriad survival and navigating concepts. The range of information that an alert and experienced person can glean from the natural signs around him or her is mind-blowing. I loved it for all the potential that it exposed me to.
I hated it because it really is something I need to be trained in with experience factoring heavily. In fact, even a couple hours walking with someone in the woods pointing out these clues and distinctions would be invaluable. Of these six books for adults who love the outdoors, this may be the one that most benefits people who want to be outside.
The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs is great as a one-time read to get a big-picture sense of what we miss when we don’t fully engage with the outside world. Then, definitely useful as a resource from time to time. I’ve taken it with us on beach trips to observe the tides, and I’ve referenced it before walks to get a sense of what lichen I’m looking for.
All in all, an impressive collection of experience and skill.
What Are People For?
by Wendell Berry
But really, any collection of essays by Berry.
Still, this was the book that made me text my husband and suggest that we should move to the countryside and buy a farm. For anyone who knows me, or even just read the first paragraph of this post, you know this would end in disaster. My husband was alarmed more than anything.
No one writes as convincingly and passionately in defense of the preservation of land as Wendell Berry. No one. I almost bought chickens.
He is invested and persuasive in his essays. His writing is eloquent and stirring. Even if you don’t fully embrace the ideas that he commends, you will engage with the topic. So, while I especially appreciated The Art of Commonplace collection, I recommend this book here because it was my first introduction to Berry and he almost made me want to live off the grid. Except I know and everyone who knows me knows, I wouldn’t live. I’d die.
There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather
by Linda Äkeson McGurk
Even though I am definitely not this type of parent, I loved McGurk’s book. There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather pulls its title from a Scandinavian adage. It starts with this phrase but ends with “just bad clothes.”
McGurk provides a glimpse into Scandinavian parenting that encourages, even expects, children to live and play outside as much as possible. And, for all intents and purposes, it is rarely not possible. McGurk chalks that up to the fundamental idea that if a child is dressed appropriately for the environment, then there isn’t any reason to fret about their outdoor activity.
From cultural observations (McGurk was born in Sweden and now parents two children in the U.S.), to school differences, to parenting styles, McGurk examines and challenges parents to get their kids outside as often as possible and in most kinds of weather.
This bi-cultural memoir is an insightful and sometimes humorous look at the values that influence parenting – particularly when it comes to time outside. It’s clear that the author deeply values the formative impact of natural play.
In that sense, these aren’t just books for adults who love the outdoors, but they are also for our kids to learn to love the outdoors, too.
The Invention of Nature
by Andrea Wulf
This biography of Alexander von Humboldt was an impulse pick at the library. I knew nothing of him before I picked up this book, but I had heard from somewhere (ah elusive book recommendations!) that it was interesting. And interesting is an understatement.
Von Humboldt was an explorer and scientist, renowned in his age. His ability to process and capture the wonders of the natural world by his writing influenced and inspired generations to come. His observations shaped our understanding of our environment and challenged people to understand the natural world as a complex, interconnected system.
Wulf does a great job of placing von Humboldt in his historical context and his natural setting. Her descriptions are vivid and the connections she makes between the prominent ideas of the time and events bring his contributions rightfully into the spotlight.
by Henry David Thoreau
The first book I finished when I officially began “book-keeping” records. Though I have considered myself a reader for most of my life, the past decade has been immersive, intense, and illuminating in all the best ways. Reading plays a disproportionate role in that. Walden by Henry David Thoreau was the first book on the first list that I made to keep track of my annual reading.
The writing is extraordinary – enough to make me care about a host of banal topics. Thoreau doesn’t need my vote of confidence or approval on his style, but there it is. He is a master of employing hyperbole, sarcasm, and metaphor (among many others) to make his point. His writing pairs words and sentences in such a way to leave the reader in no doubt of his intent and to force her to consider his point. I was convinced I wouldn’t ever make it to the end of the book with all the pauses I took to record this or that sentence.
It gets tedious in some places, but the writing is amazing. Thoreau makes connections between materialism and nature that are thought-provoking in a powerful way.
“Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.”
There you go. Six books for adults who love the outdoors. Hopefully you found one that was compelling. Do you have any good nature books to add to the list?
Want to get children excited about being outdoors? Check out this list of ten picture books about gardening.